Starting My Orange County List

Although I’ve already gotten one life bird in Orange County this year, that was an accident. This morning I took my first semi-serious birding expedition, though it was just to the park behind the gated “community” I’ve moved into.

William R. Mason Regional Park isn’t the most natural area, at last not on the Western edge I live on, but it does have some habitat amidst the grass and volleyball courts. The first birds I noted were small, chipping birds high up in the Eucalyptus trees. I strongly suspected these were Yellow-rumped Warblers, but since I’m new to the area I wanted to be sure. It took a while to get a definitive bead on one (warbler neck in February–what a concept), but when I did my suspicions were confirmed. They were indeed Yellow-rumped Warblers, though of the yellow-throated Audubon’s variety rather than the Myrtles we get back East. These were quite common throughout the day. I may have seen over a hundred of them before I was through.

I started fairly early (7:15 A.M.) so the dawn chorus was in full throat. Frustratingly, I recognized almost none of the songs out here, including some quite distinct ones. I’ll have to pick up some Western bird song CDs. The few songs and calls I recognized were Yellow-rumped Warbler, Mallard, American Crow, and Song Sparrow; and that last one doesn’t sound quite the same as the Eastern Song Sparrow. However I did eventually spot one singing so I was able to confirm my ID.

William R. Mason has a couple of small lakes that were hosting the usual collection of waterfowl: Mallards, a couple of Eared Grebes, one Horned Grebe, two American Wigeons, one Canada Goose, one Swan Goose, and maybe 200 American Coots. (I don’t know why the coot flocks get so large here. I’ve seen similar numbers at other California locations like Shoreline Park in Mountain View. Back East you rarely see this many, and you never see them foraging on the grass in large flocks like they do here. In fact, you rarely see them out of the water at all.)

On the far side of the lake, I woke up a couple of Snowy Egrets and one Great Egret that had perched in a tree for the night. Shortly thereafter I spotted three Western Bluebirds! Apparently the park has an active Bluebird nestbox program, and fledged over a hundred chicks last year. I saw about a dozen before I went home.

3 Western Bluebirds in tree

The biggest surprise though as on the volleyball field where I saw my first Long-billed Curlew feeding in the sand. Three more were feeding in the grass nearby, and then three more flew in. That’s probably more Long-billed Curlews than I’ve seen in my life, and not at all where you’d expect to find them. Several Whimbrels were also present.

One Whimbrel and Two Long-billed Curlews on grass

Those really are Long-billed Curlews (and a Whimbrel). However, when I posted the picture below, Jason pointed out that the first one I saw wasn’t a curlew at all. It’s a White-faced Ibis, a life bird!

White-faced Ibis on Volleyball court with Western Bluebird

I continued east through the park to Culver and then turned around. On the way back I added Lesser Goldfinch, Chipping Sparrow, and Rufous Hummingbird. That last one was a surprise. I didn’t know they migrated this early. I’ll have to be more careful about calling every winter hummingbird I see an Anna’s from now on. (I’ll also have to put up some hummingbird feeders on my balcony.)

This park was a major factor in choosing to live where we did. I really like being able to just wander out in the morning to go biding without having to pack up into a car. I haven’t yet exhausted the area’s avifauna by any stretch of the imagination. I only got through about half the park today, and the more developed half at that. Even there I couldn’t ID all the birds I heard, and even whiffed on one I saw well. (Just maybe it was a California Towhee–sort of a dirty grayish bird, about the size of a Fox Sparrow, with a dark rufous stripe/cap on the head and under the tail. Noticeably larger than the adjacent Chipping Sparrows and Lesser Goldfinches.)

Total species count for the morning was 25:

  • White-faced Ibis
  • Swan Goose
  • Canada Goose
  • American Wigeon
  • Mallard
  • Ruddy Duck
  • Horned Grebe
  • Eared Grebe
  • Great Egret
  • Snowy Egret
  • American Coot
  • Whimbrel
  • Long-billed Curlew
  • Ring-billed Gull
  • Mourning Dove
  • Rufous Hummingbird
  • Black Phoebe
  • American Crow
  • Ruby-crowned Kinglet
  • Western Bluebird
  • European Starling
  • Yellow-rumped Warbler (Audubon’s)
  • Chipping Sparrow
  • Song Sparrow
  • Lesser Goldfinch

Besides the Ibis, I added a California bird (Chipping Sparrow) and nine Orange County birds. My California total is now 150 (just 2 behind New Jersey) and Orange County is up to 60, (I spent a little time birding here back in 2005.) but should go fast. Orange County is a very birdy place, so if I have any time to get out to the different habitats this year, it may well pass Kings (183) as my top county. Whether I can tick off enough birds to push California ahead of New York (245) in one year I’m not sure. I can easily crack the 400 mark this year, and maybe even get to 400 ABA area birds. (Several dozen of my current 394 are from Europe.) Migration should be really interesting this year.

2 Responses to “Starting My Orange County List”

  1. Jason Says:

    Might want to double-check that curlew.

  2. Elliotte Rusty Harold Says:

    Damn, you’re right. I guess I had curlews on the brain and the Whimbrels at the same place had me thinking shorebirds. What’s a bigger shorebird than a Whimbrel with a long curved bill? There’s only one. But that’s a not a shorebird at all. That’s a White-faced Ibis! That’s actually a life bird for me.

    Going back to my photos, it looks like there actually were real curlews there. These were all further away. I should have looked closer at the one that was right in front of me.

    I just managed to post the one bird that wasn’t a curlew.

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